AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) - A holiday homecoming at the Boulevard Mall in Amherst had a surprise twist with a little help from Santa Claus.
A local member of the National Guard hasn't held his baby daughter since March. He's been in Kuwait and told his girlfriend he might not make it home for the holidays.
Specialist Julio Bottini kept texting the sister of his girlfriend who was in on the plan to surprise April Scott and their daughter as they visit the Boulevard Mall Santa.
"This is going to be real emotional for her. She thinks I'm away. She thinks I'm not going to be home for Christmas and my daughter's birthday's a week later so she may think I'm not going be home for that either," Bottini said.
He hid behind a large wrapped box as Scott's sister got everything situated.
"So we just looked around a couple stores and then I just kept texting like, 'Okay, she's getting ready to go home. If she can't see Santa, she's getting mad, what should I do?'" said Tasima Hawkins.
But the moment finally arrived and as Scott sat her daughter on Santa's lap, Bottini appeared for the first time in nine months.
"It was difficult. I was always wanting him there. I was able to see him every now and then through Google, but it still wasn't the same. It's hard being the nurturing parent and the disciplinary parent," Scott said. "It's together now...He's home. I know it meant a lot to him to be home for Christmas."
Little Arabella turns one in a couple weeks, and although Bottini may have missed her first steps, he won't miss her first Christmas morning. After almost a year in Kuwait, it's a Christmas that won't be forgotten.
And unlike many servicemen we interview, Bottini doesn't have have to go back in 10 days. He is home for at least a year.
Officials at the mall really helped pull this together. Our reporter hid in the food court, pretending to read something. And Scott was told our cameras were there for a 'cutest baby' contest.
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